Charlotte and Nicki have both chimed in on the Weinergate scandal, which–while primarily a gossipy, sex scandal-does seem to epitomize several troubling trends in our society: A ruling class that believes that rules don’t apply to them, and culture that doesn’t take commitments, such as marriage vows, seriously, and which more often seems to leave women paying the price.
Charlotte suggested that Weiner will likely have to give up his seat. I’m not so sure. As I noted here, male politicians increasingly seem to weather such scandals, taking a short-term political hit that then recedes into memory. Weiner’s colleagues are distancing themselves from him now, and his chances at higher office are probably blown, but it seems unlikely that his constituents will remember this scandal next year when it comes time to vote again. If Rep. Charlie Rangel can survive massive tax evasion (laws that he was in charge of writing), it seems a safe bet that a New York Democrat can survive a sex scandal.
And certainly Weiner and his allies will be working to convince the public that this is just a personal peccadillo of no importance to his ability to perform his public job. They’ll fan the idea that we Americans should be more sophisticated about sex issues.
But in fact this isn’t just a sex issue. The Congressman lied repeatedly to reporters and the public, claiming that he was the victim of a crime, in order to protect himself from personal embarrassment. How can we trust this man again? As Megan McArdle suggested, he opened himself up to blackmail from anyone who could get their hands on one of these embarrassing pictures (which are apparently plentiful). This complete lack of judgment and self-control should be disqualifying.
This latest scandal is revealing in how our society treats women and some of the problems with modern feminism. Earlier this week, Charlotte responded to Jessica Valenti’s celebration of the “slut walk” movement. Valenti suggests that this is a needed movement to remind men that rape isn’t okay regardless of what a woman wears.
And yes, that’s an important message and one that just about every civilized person in the country agrees with. Yet agreeing that rape is never okay doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t advise a young woman that she should consider what behaviors put her in increased danger. People are regularly warned about not parking in areas that are known for high rates of car theft. This doesn’t mean that car theft is condoned or I think you invited a car thief to steal your car if you park there or leave something valuable on your front seat. But it’s good information to know where these crimes tend to happen.
Years from now, I can imagine giving my daughters the warning that being drunk and scantily clad at a fraternity house will put them at a higher risk of assault. That doesn’t mean that I in any way condone the assault or think that being drunk in a short skirt is “asking for it,” but it’s ludicrous to pretend that there isn’t a higher risk of assault in certain situations.
Rape is never okay. Neither is murder, battery, assault, theft, etc. Yet the sad truth is that such crimes exist and always will. Yes, we need to work to educate the public about these crimes and prevent them from happening, but we should also encourage an honest and realistic understanding about precautions that women can consider taking personally.
How does this relate to Weinergate? Only that it’s worth noting that it seems that women always pay a higher price for casual sex. Perhaps it’s supposed to be very sophisticated to shrug off infidelity and a married man who exchanges explicit photos with young women who may or may not be of age. But the woman involved – the Congressman’s wife and the woman who were involved in the scandal – seem likely to pay a higher price than the Congressman himself. A society that just accepts that men will men and allows the Congressman Weiners, the Schwarzenegger, the Clintons, Spitzers, and the nearly endless list of other men that cheat on their wives and take advantage of young women is really not in women’s best interest.
Yet feminists like Valenti seem to conflate the promotion of casual sex as the key to women’s liberation. I understand the desire to move away from a society that demonizes women who have sex outside of marriage, but it’s mistake not to recognize that some conventions about sex are meant to protect women, and their destruction has serious unintended consequences for women.